Health: Know your heart age
Jenny Logan discusses the importance of maintaining your heart and blood pressure
Recently, it was announced that a collaboration between the NHS, Public Health England and the British Heart Foundation had created an online questionnaire, to let people know their ‘heart age’.
The test can be accessed at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/check-your-heart-age-tool/ This quick and easy tool identifies risk factors and steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Luckily, I received a heart age which was the same as my actual age. But, for those who do not, over my next few articles I am going to look at natural ways to support heart health – starting with high blood pressure.
WHY IS BLOOD PRESSURE IMPORTANT TO HEART HEALTH?
Imagine a kink in a garden hose – it prevents the water from moving through the hose as it should. The pressure behind the kink starts to build up, until eventually something gives and the hose, the tap or the valves are damaged, as the water seeks another way out.
Blood circulates through blood vessels like the water passing through the hose. It is pushed around the body by the beating of the heart. If the blood is pumped around at a pressure which is too high, it can cause damage to the blood vessels, potentially even causing them to burst. This is what happens when a person has a stroke.
WHAT IS HEALTHY BLOOD PRESSURE?
An ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80 – but what many people ask is, what does this actually mean?
The top figure in the blood pressure reading, known as the systolic pressure, is a measurement of how fast the blood is moving through the body, when the heart has just beaten. It has just been pushed by the beat of the heart, so it will have a higher pressure.
The bottom figure is a measurement of how fast the blood is still circulating when the heart is still – thus it is a lower number.
Over the years, doctors have determined the ideal pressure for health is 120/80 – the more we exceed this, the greater the risk of damage to the blood vessels.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE FACTORS
There are a number of diet and lifestyle factors which can impact blood pressure.
Engage with regular exercise – this does not have to mean running, just something which keeps you fit and active.
This supports heart health and can help keep blood pressure low.
Avoid adding salt to food – a high salt diet has been linked to an increase in the blood pressure. Therefore, anyone worried about their blood pressure should avoid adding salt to their cooking or their meal. It would also be a good idea to limit salty foods such as cheese, crisps, bacon and other processed meats.
Deal with stress – prolonged stress is known to cause an increase in the blood pressure, which is why relaxation techniques and exercises such as yoga or Pilates are often advocated to help reduce blood pressure.
Limit caffeine and alcohol – If we believe the headlines, one week they are good for the heart, the next they are not. The key with products like caffeine and alcohol is moderation – too much could have a negative impact.
NATURAL PRODUCTS TO SUPPORT HEALTHY BLOOD PRESSURE
Beetroot: Many people will have seen articles highlighting the benefits of drinking beetroot juice, or taking beetroot supplements. This is because much research has been carried out using concentrated beetroot, to see if it could reduce blood pressure. These studies concluded beetroot supplements were associated with a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure.
CO-Q-10: Co-Enzyme-Q10 is used by every cell in the body to produce energy, and is particularly important for the health of the heart and brain. For this reason, CO-Q-10 is another supplement which has been looked at by many scientists, to see what potential benefits it could offer for heart health. A review of all these studies, showed that it did appear to consistently reduce blood pressure in those who supplemented with at least 100mg CO-Q-10 each day.
None of this information is meant to replace advice provided by a doctor, nor is it intended that these supplements be used in place of any medications prescribed by a doctor. These suggestions are intended for people who are wanting to take control of blood pressure via dietary and natural means, before having to use medication. Any changes to diet and lifestyle, particularly if you are using medication, should be done after discussions with your doctor.